House Republicans on Thursday slammed the door shut on a proposal to consider whether illegal immigrants who have been spared from deportation should be considered as candidates for the U.S. military.
Members of the House were debating dozens of amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, a bill authorizing defense activities for the next fiscal year. Inside that huge bill is "sense of the Congress" language that calls for an evaluation of whether "undocumented immigrants" now living in the United States could join the U.S. military.
The provision holds that the government should consider as a candidate anyone benefitting from President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. That program allowed younger illegal immigrants to officially avoid deportation.
The language was added in the House Armed Services Committee, and found support from every committee Democrat and six Republicans. That was enough to get the language on the bill, although other Republicans made a point of trying to kill off the language through an amendment that was considered on the House floor.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) brought up the amendment, and argued that leaving the language in the bill runs the risk of favoring illegal immigrants over American citizens, at a time when the military ranks are being reduced.
Others said it makes no sense to drag immigration into a bill dealing with defense policy. "I remain opposed to bringing the sensitive issue of immigration into the defense authorization bill," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said the language gives too much respect to Obama's DACA policy, given that it has been challenged in court and is hotly opposed by Republicans. "The House should not take action to legitimize the president's unconstitutional overreach regarding immigration, especially that of creating a program to defer removal for an entire class of hundreds of thousands of unlawful aliens," he said.
But the proposal clearly split Republicans. Earlier in the day, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) called on all members to vote against Brooks' language, and said illegal immigrants should have a chance to serve in the military, and said
"Let the young men and women who were brought here as children, through no fault of their own, serve their country," he said. "Let them serve the country that educated them. Let them serve the country they love."
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who proposed the language in committee, argued that citizenship shouldn't matter when it comes to people who are volunteering to serve in the military. "I know that what really matters on the battlefield isn't whether you have the right papers, it's whether you have the heart to fight, patriotism for your country, and the right character," he said.
In the end, there were enough Republicans opposed to the language to have it cut from the bill. The House narrowly passed Brooks' language 221-202. Republicans split 221-20 on the vote, and every Democrat voted for it.